Dozens of startups are helping build OKC’s national reputation
By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
A fast-growing Oklahoma City startup named WeGoLook has established itself as a pioneering crowd-sourcing business trailblazer, creating a market where there literally wasn’t one before.
WeGoLook is one of dozens of new ventures that have helped build Oklahoma City’s reputation on the national scene as an emerging center for startups.
In the past two years, Oklahoma City has been ranked the nation’s No. 1 city by CNN/Money for a Business-Friendly Environment, the No. 1 Best City to Start a Business by Kiplinger magazine and No. 1 among Cities Worth Moving to if You Want to Launch a Business by Entrepreneur magazine.
WeGoLook got its start back in 2009 when Robin Smith and her co-founders, Mat Smith and Mark Caywood puzzled over the problem of how to verify an item before buying it online. There was no way to ensure that a distant piece of property, vehicle or electronic bought on an online auction was actually as it was listed.
So, the trio decided to invent a way. They called it WeGoLook. The company would use contract workers it calls “Lookers” from across the country to go inspect property or real estate, take photos, write a report and file it online. Think, “Uber of Inspections.”
Buyers would pay a nominal fee and be able to access the report and photos online, as well, armed with information they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Robin Smith, now the company’s CEO, spells out how it works:
“You’d like to purchase a pinball machine on eBay that is located in Kentucky but you are in California,” Smith said. “You’re not sure if the listing is real or if the item is represented correctly. You would simply purchase a WeGoLook report and our Looker closest to the pinball machine would take multiple current photos, video a working demonstration plus answer any custom questions you may have.”
WeGoLook and the Looker accepting the job split the fees that begins at only $69 for a basic report.
By 2012, WeGoLook had 7,400 Lookers nationwide and two full-time employees at its downtown Oklahoma City location. Fast forward to the end of February of this year as the company boasts more than 24,000 Lookers and 83 full-time employees.
Robin Smith calls it the “sharing economy or gig-economy,” similar to that of the ride-sharing philosophy of Uber and its worldwide fleet of contract drivers. Individual Lookers across the nation, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, are offered jobs in their area via a mobile app and can decide to accept them or ignore them.
WeGoLook offers a broad menu of services, including property, auto heavy equipment and marine inspections, as well as custom tasks such as researching and picking up documents from a jurisdiction or police report, notary, shipping and pickup and delivery.
Enterprise customers now include some of the nation’s top financial services and insurance companies, along with eBay motors and other large auto and equipment auction businesses who utilize WeGoLook for “On-Demand Inspections” while supplementing their own labor force with Lookers.
Locally, i2E and other Oklahoma investors bought into the concept early on. In the fall of 2014, i2E led an investment in WeGoLook of almost $2 million that also included Oklahoma Angel investors.
For Oklahoma City, the emergence of WeGoLook and other startups shows that the city’s renaissance over the past two decades has created an environment where entrepreneurs such as Robin Smith want to grow their businesses, said Scott Meacham, CEO of i2E Inc., a not-for-profit that provides investment capital and business advice to new ventures.
“The thing I think of that is most important about Oklahoma City is it is a community that has shown a willingness to invest in itself and dream big,” Meacham said “And you are not going to accomplish big things if you don’t dream big.”